Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 28th 2014 by Balzer & Bray
I read Cruel Beauty and liked it tremendously. First, let me tell you what it’s about since I am going to try to not use the publisher provided synopses as I often find them misleading. The novel is amalgamation of three or four popular fairytales, most prominently Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast, and Rumplestiltskin. I was initially put off by the tag that accompanies the cover as it paints the novel in a rather cheesy light. If you are like me and wary of mush, you can rest assured that mush remains at a minimum. The novel focalizes on Nyx who has been raised to be wed to the local beastly lord who uses demons as his henchmen to keep the locals from acting up and leading revolutions.
She is not very pleased with this as one can imagine, especially, since her twin sister is the more cossetted one, more loved by the father and the aunt who is shacking up with the father behind their backs (as if no one knows). Her upcoming fate is made more difficult to endure due to her sister’s cluelessness and lack of gravitas awarded to Nyx’s upcoming nuptials. In other words, the sister is something of an airhead and believes correctly that the world revolves around her. She thinks Nyx will waltz into the manor, murder the demon lord and be home in time for dinner. She does not fully comprehend Nyx’s fate which is most probably death because, you know, one does not marry a demon lord and survive. To add some (more) complexity to the plot, Nyx has been trained since she was a wee one to somehow defeat her demon lord husband in order to grant liberty to her people. It does not matter that she may not be around to enjoy the freedom. After all, one must sacrifice oneself for the greater good. (Or so everyone tries to convince me of that. I, however, am very dubious of that one tenet.)
Wonderfully, Nyx is has more than two lemons worth of wickedness inside her that allows her to hate; hate her sister for her better fate, hate her father for not caring or loving her enough, for making the deal with Ignifex (aka Gentle Lord or something like that), hate her aunt for not being her mother and for being one of the most annoying women ever. I felt like slapping the aunt often enough and I had to endure her for only about twenty pages.
Anyway, Nyx marries a statue who is the stand-in for her husband because that’s how they did things then and then she’s off and away to the manor that may become the last place she ever stays at. Oh, before she leaves, she ensures that her sister who so blithely thinks that everything is roses and cream is disabused of that notion. I liked that bit of honesty. I can’t stand self-sacrificing protagonists who flaunt their insipid morality and just bore me to tears. Give me a morally ambiguous protagonist anytime. They make for complex and dynamic characters that are wonderful to read.
Ignifex is rather more fun than anyone would have thought and he is beautiful except for the demon eyes though I don’t think it’d matter in the dark. He also has this super awesome power to detach his shadow and use it as a servant. I wish I could. The shadow comes to life during the night and makes Nyx’s heart beat in an adulterous fashion – considering she is married to the man and not his shadow but is it adultery if she kisses the shadow? I don’t know.
What follows is a tense journey through the house that is as much a character in the novel as any of the human characters. Nyx tries to find the heart of the elements in order to disassemble the enchantment and while doing so, she makes discoveries, has several fantastic kisses and falls in love. It is rather superb and my toes curled several times. The climax gets a bit sketchy because though I understood the rhetoric, I felt that the distinction between the two sides of the “coin” was not sharply etched enough to completely convince me. If that sounds ambiguous, it is meant to and you will understand what I mean once you’ve read the book. I would have also liked more exploration into what made the sister change so drastically because she becomes sinister and big-time scary in her desire for vengeance.
Throughout it all, I loved how consistent Nyx is to her feelings and that she understands what she must do and does do it but she hates doing it and feels no compunction in telling people why. I also liked that the love triangle is resolved fairly quickly. So, you guys, this is my review and it’s not a very good one. I’m sorry. Just know that this is a good book and if you like fascinating worlds and wonderful world building, you ought to read it.